The Latest Addition To The Mother Horror Canon Is An Irish Folktale
Available on Blu-Ray, DVD and On Demand 6/21
Kate Dolan’s 2021 feature debut, You Are Not My Mother is a female-centered Irish folk horror movie starring lonely, studious Char as she struggles with her mom’s battle with depression and subsequent replacement by the fae.
The film is centered around the European myth of ‘the Changeling child’, where a faerie creature swaps a young human child with one from their world.
Char’s mother, Angela’s doppelgänger, has arrived to take back the human child and even reprieve the dispirited Angela of her motherly duties.
Grappling with three generations of women, You Are Not My Mother is the newest addition to the 21st century canon of “mom horror” along with indie darlings The Babadook and Hereditary, the latter of which achieved legacy thanks to the memeification of the “I Am Your Mother” speech.
Culturally, we’re reaching a new frontier of motherhood. The pandemic’s specific toll on mothers regarding childcare and the mass exodus from the workplace, in addition to the U.S.’s return to no federal protection for safe, legal, or accessible abortions (a right Ireland only legalized in 2018) are beginning to force conversations that have long been brewing.
The Irish women of You Are Not My Mother struggle to communicate across generational lines. It is from her bullies - not her mother or grandmother - that Char begins to challenge whether her facial birthmark is in fact, a burn mark. Char’s grandmother, Rita, carries superstitions and the knowledge of protection spells that have never been passed down to Char. The protection talisman, made in peril, is the only tradition from her grandmother that Char will carry with her for the rest of their life.
Her mother, Angela, whose true form we see quite briefly, is at a point in her depression where she’s reduced to the smallest box imaginable. She only receives medication for her mental health once she gets into a car accident and disappears for an entire day, but not a moment before.
When swapping vulnerable mom horror stories, Char’s bully-turned-friend assures her that “family is the scariest thing on the fucking planet.”
The fantasy of You Are Not My Mother is that maybe there’s something scarier out there in the deep, dark woods; scarier than a woman who had a daughter too young in an Ireland where abortion wasn’t an option, scarier than a guardian who can’t get out of bed to go to work or buy groceries, scarier than a mother who can’t pay attention while driving, or who’s convinced crashing the car, even with her daughter in it, would be a better choice than to continue living.
You Are Not My Mother gets a word-for-word title drop at the dramatic crux of the film. It’s heavy-handed, but it’s a powerful rejection from Char. This version of her mother can get out of bed to cook a full dinner, spin in floral dresses, and embrace her daughter with a hug, but it is a false, idealistic mom – one that cannot exist in this family or in this world.
Kate Dolan’s writing and directing expertly wrestles with one singular monster-as-theme. Although sometimes too literally, Dolan’s film, unlike her characters, says exactly what she wants to say.
Rotten Tomatoes Score: 89% Certified Fresh
Popdust Rating: 3.5/5